If you walk into my home office in Austin, Texas you will see two posters – one of Emiliano Zapata and the other of Cesar Chavez. Both of these men struggled for the rights of the poor and oppressed and organized movements that changed society; however, the tactics they used to achieve this social change differed greatly. As his birthday approaches, I would like to reflect on the example of change set forth by Cesar Chavez.
Chavez once said:
Nonviolence is not inaction. It is not discussion. It is not for the timid or weak…Nonviolence is hard work. It is the willingness to sacrifice. It is the patience to win.
No one lived these words better than the man himself. Cesar Chavez modeled a deeper meaning of nonviolence, not just as a way of acting but as a basic principle of life. He realized that in order to change the world, he had to be willing to start with himself; therefore, in 1962, he resigned from his post of national director of the Community Service Organization and founded the United Farm Workers of America. Influenced by Mahatma Gandhi and the Southern Civil Rights movement, Chavez humbly led the union for more than three decades with nonviolence as the guiding tenet for all of his actions. Even in the face of violent attacks from landowners and growers, Chavez maintained his commitment to nonviolence, organizing and participating in successful strikes and boycotts, as well as fasting for nearly a month on several occasions to send a message to farm workers, who began to speak of responding in kind to the violent assaults against them. Chavez sacrificed personally, going days without eating, earning less than $6,000 a year, never owning a house, and leaving his family with no savings upon his death in April of 1993, but his sacrifice and dedication won fair wages, medical coverage, humane living conditions, and above all dignity and respect for farm workers.
It is for all these reasons and many more that a poster of Cesar Chavez hangs in my office. His image reminds me daily that with courage an ordinary man can accomplish extraordinary feats. This holds especially true in my work with 1in6. I have seen how the courage of one survivor coming forward to tell his story of childhood sexual abuse serves as the catalyst for others to come forward as well. I have also witnessed how the courage of bystanders taking a stand against social norms that perpetuate sexual violence has helped others question their own views and actions and how the courage of a loved one supporting his partner has made the long journey of healing a tad more bearable. Although it is often much easier to allow fear, doubt, and apathy to paralyze us into inaction, we must have the courage to look beyond ourselves for the greater good of others just as Cesar Chavez continually did and spoke of:
When you have people together who believe in something very strongly – whether it’s religion or politics or unions, things happen…We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community…Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own.
We at 1in6 believe strongly in our mission of helping men who have had unwanted or abusive sexual experiences in childhood live healthier, happier lives and through our work, we are beginning to see things happen. Recently 1in6 partnered with The Joyful Heart Foundation and NBC on a ground breaking episode of Law & Order: SVU “Personal Fouls,” which focuses on both courage and the role of bystanders. You can watch the episode (for $1.99) on Amazon, and please consider using the Viewer Guide created by 1in6.
In this time when so much emphasis is placed on self-preservation and retaliation, may the words and legacy of Cesar Chavez inspire and challenge us all to continue working in order to become the peace we seek in our community and in the world.
Emiliano C. Diaz de Leon is a Cultural Capacity Specialist for 1in6, Inc.
Besides his work with 1in6, Emiliano has more than a decade of experience working for multiple Domestic/Sexual Violence centers in Texas. Since 2008, Emiliano has worked as a Primary Prevention Specialist for the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault (TAASA) and since October 2011 providing technical assistance to the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) Engaging Men Program grantees around the country as a Men’s Engagement Specialist.